by Patrick J. Deneen
Review also posted on Goodreads. If you’re interested, you can read the synopsis here.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.
Deneen does a good job of getting his point across by developing a simple formula that he uses throughout the book. For every statement he makes about liberalism’s failure, he applies that formula, so the book is quite repetitive, which is part of what makes his argument so easy to understand. Not that I agree with many of his points, but he did make me think.
It’s not within Deneen’s stated scope of the book to provide detailed solutions. Nevertheless, I was disappointed by the almost utter lack of proposed solutions here. If he hadn’t explicitly stated such wasn’t his goal, I would’ve rated Why Liberalism Failed 2 stars instead of 3.
It’s also disappointing that his broadly stated, vague suggestions for fixing the problem, that is, finding a successor to the political ideology of liberalism, seem to call for: a return to primacy of teaching the Western Canon in institutions of higher learning; an increased emphasis on teaching religion, especially the variety of Protestant Christianity practiced in America; and a greater emphasis on teaching character, morals, and value. In other words, in Chapters 5 & 6, Deneen seems to be advocating a return to 1950s, ’60s, and 80s-era White male dominance and all it believes. Of course that could just be me reading into his argument, but since he doesn’t do a better job of suggesting concrete reforms, that’s the risk he runs.
Still, kudos to Deneen for this thoughtful, thought-provoking, and easily readable treatise. I hope that younger folks with brighter minds and far more time and energy than I have to devote to such pursuits will read it and be inspired to come up with a better, fairer, more effective ideology and political system based on it before America collapses utterly and irrevocably.
If you’re considering reading this book, I feel it’s important for you to understand a key part of Deneen’s argument. By “liberalism”, he does NOT mean the left-leaning policies of American Democrats. He defines it as the ideology underpinning our entire political system. He believes and clearly, repeatedly states, that both Democrats/Liberals (Progressive Liberals) and Republicans/Conservatives (Classical Liberals) are liberalists and seek to achieve the same goal using different means & language.
Since I don’t agree that liberalism has failed, (yet!), I think a better title would be How Liberalism Fails. But hey, Deneen didn’t ask me.